Women Behind Canadian TV: Adriana Maggs

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Photo courtesy of Adriana Maggs
Photo courtesy of Adriana Maggs

Writing certainly runs in the Maggs family. Father Randall is a Canadian poet and both of his daughters are writers. In fact, both of Randall’s daughters have seen their writing careers begin in Newfoundland and find great successes in the Canadian television industry. Jane, most recently co-created CBC’s Bellevue, while her sister Adriana Maggs, has written on some of Canadian TV’s most popular series including Rookie Blue, Saving Hope, Frontier and the upcoming CBC drama Caught. Adriana also directed the feature film Grown Up Movie Star starring Tatiana Maslany and Shawn Doyle.

Maggs recently spoke with The TV Junkies as part of our Women Behind Canadian TV series to discuss making her way from Newfoundland to Toronto while working in the industry. She talked about the advantages of having family in the business, as well as how she found her creative start locally. Maggs also shared her views on the changes she’s seen regarding women directors, and why she desperately wants to see more diverse voices in writing rooms telling authentic stories on screen.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The TV Junkies: You’re pretty busy and have a few projects with Caught and Little Dog coming out later this spring. I’m really glad you were able to join us for this.

Adriana Maggs: My pleasure! I’ve actually really noticed a difference in the industry, particularly with directing, so I wanted to do this series. With writing in the past, I know I’ve been on shows where I made less than men, but it’s also so subjective with ‘what is this person bringing? They’ve done so many other shows in higher credited positions.’ Because of that subjectiveness, you can suspect that women get paid lower, but there really are so many variables. However, with directing I’ve noticed a big difference in Canada, and since CBC mandated that they wanted 50 per cent of their shows directed by women, it has made a huge difference.

I would actually say one of the most interesting things is that I have a close friend who directed comedies, but had a brutal time breaking in. I am not sure why she had trouble, but in the meantime she’d just make documentaries. So with this new wave of female directors getting hired, I know it’s a lot of young directors. Then we’re dealing with ageism because people want to say ‘Well, there was no one to hire.’ There were women there and now you have people like my friend who is 56, but they still don’t look at her. So it’s great for young women, but the women who rammed into that wall their whole career still aren’t getting hired, and they are worth getting hired.

TTVJ: You’re right, there seem to be a lot of young women directors getting a chance for every say Amanda Tapping you have, just as an example.

AM: There’s a crew of women like Helen Shaver, Amanda Tapping, Gail Harvey and they got in there and are great. But there’s a whole bunch more who are very deserving, and I don’t know what it was, but a chance was not taken on them and now they’ve kind of missed the boat. I don’t put myself in that category. I directed a feature that was at Sundance in 2010, and a network executive sent myself and a few women out after to meet producers of different shows. She was trying to get female diretors in there, but every one of them said to me that directing a feature was nothing like directing Canadian TV, and I couldn’t possibly do one of their shows. However, I’ve been on shows working and there are people on directing with way less experience and are probably men.

TTVJ: I was actually curious about that because I knew you had directed Grown Up Movie Star. Do you have any future plans to direct again?

AM: I actually have a feature that’s about to go. My sister and I adapted my father’s book about a Detroit Red Wings hockey player in the 50s. It’s an exquisite story about fame, happiness and mortality. We adapted it into a film and started that seven years ago, but only now is it coming to life.

TTVJ: Speaking of your sister, let’s go back a bit. Did you always know you wanted to work in TV?

AM: I always liked film and went to York University for film and television with a focus on screenwriting. I loved it and wanted to do that. When I got out and came back to Newfoundland, Sherry White was there. She was established and she seemed to have it all figured out. We got together and made a pilot for CBC called Rabbittown. It was about two hairdressers who drank too much. One episode aired on CBC and then it was cancelled. We were then on another show [Hatching, Matching & Dispatching] together with a bunch of Newfoundland friends like Johnny Harris, Susan Kent and Mary Walsh. That ran for one season and then was cancelled as well.

CBC
CBC

TTVJ: You have done some acting, but what is your preference? Do you like being behind the scenes more?

AM: My goal was always to be behind the scenes, but Mary Walsh works using improv and the story room actually would get up and act out scenes. It was the hardest thing ever, but I was so young and didn’t realize that’s not how things normally go. It’s pretty hilarious though, because she got every single one of us back to do this Christmas movie [A Christmas Fury], and that’s such a testament to her and how amazing she is. She’s really incredible.

TTVJ: Now your sister Jane is also in the industry and writes. What’s it like having her and being able to share that?

AM: It’s been amazing because when one of us gets busy, we just hand off the project to the other one and then it’s created by the both of us. I was doing a television show that’s in development and got crazy busy, so I got her to come on with me, and now it’s being written by both of us and is now so much better. The same thing just happened to her, and I went on one of her shows to get the development done.

TTVJ: Throughout your career you’ve really been on a lot of shows and in many different writing rooms. It seems like the balance is shifting, but what has the gender makeup of those rooms been like for you?

AM: I’ve got to say that I’ve been pretty lucky, once I got into Tassie’s [Cameron] room at Rookie Blue, where I find myself with women all the time. I want to be with women all the time. I find that women are such different storytellers, and while there are a lot of men I really adore, I have been lucky to be working with women constantly. It’s partially that it’s what I prefer, but I don’t always have control over it. I don’t know that I’ve ever been the only woman in a room.

What I want to see now, and what’s really a priority for me, given that I never realized it before out of ignorance, is that I want to see black women, indigenous women and trans women in a room. I want to see the authentic voices and the authentic representation that comes from people who aren’t white dudes writing everything. You know when you see it wrong because it’s terrible. There’s a man written by a man, a woman written by a woman, and then a woman who is written by a man and it’s a totally unrecognizable gender. So to see that I have to realize that I’m just as guilty of it when I’m writing for people whose experiences I have not experienced. I do not want to be in rooms any more trying to write for black characters as a bunch of white people.

Corus Entertainment
Corus Entertainment

TTVJ: You’re right in that I think things are getting better gender-wise, but there’s still a big lack of diversity both on screen and off when it comes to races and sexuality. Do you feel a big responsibility to bring those stories as a writer to the table?

AM: I absolutely feel that. It’s an interesting question because when you’re writing a spec or a novel, you’re by yourself and thinking ‘I don’t want to just write about 40 year old white women.’ It’s really boring and that can’t be the only stories I tell. When you’re writing a spec you have to not judge yourself or worry about putting roadblocks in front of yourself. You have to be fearless, but then you have a responsibility if you’re going to develop the show, that you populate it with people who own these experiences. It’s like when we saw Orange is the New Black and we got to see all these diverse people talking to each other in a way we just hadn’t seen on TV. We didn’t see black women being written by black women and it was amazing. More of that, please!

TTVJ: Do you have any advice for other young women looking to get in the industry?

AM: One, don’t settle for your first agent. Get the best agent who gets you and is going to get you out there. The other is to try and do some sort of creative writing like short stories, novels or podcasts — just something. Get a lot of mediums going!

 

Do you have more thoughts on Maggs’ take? Add your comments below!

Caught premieres Monday, February 26 at 9 p.m. ET on CBC. Read more from our Women Behind Canadian TV series here.

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